Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
What Was I Watching Before? Bryan Singer Says 'X-Men: Apocalypse' Is "The True Birth Of The X-Men" What Was I Watching Before? Bryan Singer Says 'X-Men: Apocalypse' Is "The True Birth Of The X-Men" Review & Recap: 'True Detective' Season 2, Episode 3 'Maybe Tomorrow' Review & Recap: 'True Detective' Season 2, Episode 3 'Maybe Tomorrow' Zack Snyder Defends 'Man Of Steel' Finale, Ben Affleck Reveals Bruce Wayne Knew People Who Died In That Battle Zack Snyder Defends 'Man Of Steel' Finale, Ben Affleck Reveals Bruce Wayne Knew People Who Died In That Battle New Book Contends Eric Stoltz Was “Difficult” & The Cast Wasn’t Shocked He Was Replaced On ‘Back To The Future’ New Book Contends Eric Stoltz Was “Difficult” & The Cast Wasn’t Shocked He Was Replaced On ‘Back To The Future’ Watch: Scott Lang Wants To Call The Avengers In New International 'Ant-Man' Trailer Watch: Scott Lang Wants To Call The Avengers In New International 'Ant-Man' Trailer Watch: Epic New Trailer For Werner Herzog's 'Queen Of The Desert' With Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, & More Watch: Epic New Trailer For Werner Herzog's 'Queen Of The Desert' With Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, & More The 20 Worst Films Of 2015 So Far The 20 Worst Films Of 2015 So Far Zack Snyder Reveals The Easter Egg Idea He Pitched Christopher Nolan And David Goyer For 'Man Of Steel' Zack Snyder Reveals The Easter Egg Idea He Pitched Christopher Nolan And David Goyer For 'Man Of Steel' New Images Of Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, More In 'Batman v. Superman,' Ben Affleck Compares Batman To Hamlet New Images Of Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, More In 'Batman v. Superman,' Ben Affleck Compares Batman To Hamlet Mads Mikkelsen And Hugh Dancy Released From Their 'Hannibal' Contracts Mads Mikkelsen And Hugh Dancy Released From Their 'Hannibal' Contracts Paul Thomas Anderson To Write And Possibly Direct Warner Bros' ‘Pinocchio’ For Robert Downey Jr. Paul Thomas Anderson To Write And Possibly Direct Warner Bros' ‘Pinocchio’ For Robert Downey Jr. Watch: Michael Fassbender Plays ‘Steve Jobs’ In New Trailer For Oscar-Contender Co-Starring Kate Winslet & Seth Rogen Watch: Michael Fassbender Plays ‘Steve Jobs’ In New Trailer For Oscar-Contender Co-Starring Kate Winslet & Seth Rogen Tom Cruise Still Gearing Up For 'Top Gun 2,' Story Will Involve Drone Warfare Tom Cruise Still Gearing Up For 'Top Gun 2,' Story Will Involve Drone Warfare Watch: First Trailer For Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley & Nicolas Cage Watch: First Trailer For Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley & Nicolas Cage Review: ‘Terminator: Genisys’ Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney & Jason Clarke Review: ‘Terminator: Genisys’ Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney & Jason Clarke 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season

Review: Ralph Fiennes' Charles Dickens Drama 'The Invisible Woman' Co-Starring Felicity Jones

The Playlist By Chris Willman | The Playlist December 27, 2013 at 2:07PM

Charles Dickens and his comely, considerably younger mistress have a dickens of a time getting their adulterous act together in “The Invisible Woman,” a directing, as well as starring, turn for Ralph Fiennes. He’s rarely been better than he is as the 19th century’s most celebrated novelist, with his chops on camera just about matched by what he’s done behind. The problem is that we’ve seen so many fictions about Victorians who can’t let the onset of real passion break up their stuffy marriages that even a true-life variation doesn’t have that much to add to the genre, much less that’s thematically worthy of Dickens.
0
Felicity Jones, The Invisible Woman

Charles Dickens and his comely, considerably younger mistress have a dickens of a time getting their adulterous act together in “The Invisible Woman,” a directing, as well as starring, turn for Ralph Fiennes. He’s rarely been better than he is as the 19th century’s most celebrated novelist, with his chops on camera just about matched by what he’s done behind. The problem is that we’ve seen so many fictions about Victorians who can’t let the onset of real passion break up their stuffy marriages that even a true-life variation doesn’t have that much to add to the genre, much less that’s thematically worthy of Dickens.

Felicity Jones, The Invisible Woman

Fiennes embraces his hairline even as he’s grown out a mop of side-parted curls right behind it, a loose look that helps reinforce the film’s notion that Dickens might have been probably the most fun mega-celebrity of the 1800s, and someone who surely would’ve surpassed Vidal and Mailer as the most naturally TV-suited of novelists if only he hadn’t been born too soon. His gregarious, hail-fellow-well-met demeanor is a poor fit for his portly, uninterested wife, who remarks to the mistress—not very approvingly—that the 50-ish Dickens is “nothing if not youthful.”

It’s a familiar story, now as then: celebrated artist has a spouse who doesn’t really give a hoot about the art, meets 18-year-old acolyte who can recite passages from memory and feels the soul behind them, too. The fan with whom he forms a mutual fascination society is Ellen Ternan, played by Felicity Jones, a full-lipped beauty who looks a little like a younger Scarlett Johansson when her mouth is at rest and Rosanna Arquette when it curls up into a smile. Hello, divorce court!

The Invisible Woman

Or not, since either Victorian propriety or the promise of continued blockbuster book sales demands that Dickens not officially end his marriage, even though he writes a letter to the editor announcing a separation (without bothering to alert his wife or kids till they see it in the newspaper). So Dickens’ intellectual and sensual infatuation with Miss Ternan will end neither in a passionate second marriage nor a tearfully tragic parting, but … an old-fashioned “arrangement.” Which is the kind of thing that doesn’t make for a great third act.

And once the film establishes that these two kept their affair going on that same middle ground for years (13, to be exact, though you’d have to look that up), it’s hard to find that much tragedy in their plight or sense of loss for a great love thwarted. As much as Fiennes initially touches us with the loneliness behind the bonhomie, by the end it’s not clear whether he’s doing the best he can with illicit true love in a button-up period or just getting his rocks off in his declining years.

Joanna Scanlan The Invisible Woman

It’d be easier to invest if Jones seemed slightly worthier of the great man’s passions. Kristin Scott Thomas, as Ellen’s actress mother, is eager to pair her daughter off with Dickens, as a lover and benefactor if husband isn’t possible, because she recognizes Ellen is a great beauty who doesn’t have what it takes for success in the theater. Jones doesn’t lack the acting gene the way her character does, but at least in “The Invisible Woman,” the great soulfulness that attracted Dickens to Ellen is more evident in scripter Abi Morgan’s text than on Jones’ undeniably beguiling face.

Fiennes deserves kudos for his handling of the role of the dismissed wife, Katey, who at first looks like a typical movie shrew, or straw woman for the discarding. No one will exactly be rooting for Mr. and Mrs. Dickens to stay together, but as Katey, Joanna Scanlan is allowed a few terrific moments of real anxiety and torment. In her 10 minutes or so of screen time, she’s a more interesting “invisible woman” than the titular one. [B-]

This is a reprint of our review from the 2013 Telluride Film Festival.

This article is related to: Reviews, Review, Ralph Fiennes, Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates